Awarded for awareness
Arizona Republic
Feb. 19, 2008


National PTA honors Valley schools group for integrating culture

Amanda Fruzynski

Nearly every school has a parent-teacher-student association. But one southeast Valley group is getting national recognition for ignoring district boundaries and embracing an often-overlooked population.

The Southeast Valley Native American PTSA began two years ago, one of only a few such organizations nationwide to embrace multiple districts and is unusual in its focus on culture.

The group has parents from the Tempe Elementary, Kyrene and Tempe Union High School districts.These districts include schools from Tempe, Guadalupe, Ahwatukee and Chandler.

"What makes us unique is that we're incorporating the culture," said group President Lisa Blackhorse.

"We realize that academics come first. But being urban Native Americans, we need to retain the culture."

She said a great deal of the Native American culture coincides well with education.

"A lot of Native American children are hands-on learners," she said. "We're hoping this year with SEVNA to bring in some cultural activities within their education (at school)."

The group did just that when they organized a Take Your Family to School celebration for families throughout the three districts at Frank Elementary in Guadalupe.

Dozens of parents turned out to play kickball with their children and take part in a social hour that included a Native American culture showcase, games and food.

The cultural showcase included a Native American opening prayer led by Miss Indian ASU, a traditional outfit and storytelling show, information about the culture behind the Hopi baby-naming ceremony, Navajo singing, and various musical performances.

"I think this is great. It brings us out, and we get to actually have fun outside of the homework we do together every night," parent Maria Vacaneri-Huerta said.

She took part in the kickball game, playing against two of her three sons.

The Southeast Valley Native American PTSA won a national award for its organization of the activities at Frank. The president of the national PTA organization, Jan Harp Domene, awarded the group a check for $1,897.

The southeast Valley group was among 32 organizations nationwide, and the only one in Arizona, to be recognized this year from among more than 340 applicants.

"This is what it's all about," Domene said after the kickball game. "When we can link the school up with the home, we know that kids do far better."

Domene said that the southeast Valley group is a good example to the rest of the nation of a culturally diverse group of parents developing its own organization.

"Instead of trying to fit a diverse population into the PTA mold, it makes our program more tailored to their population," she said.

Teresa Masayesva said she joined the Southeast Valley Native American PTSA after noticing that Native American cultural awareness was missing from her daughter's school, Broadmor Elementary.

Since joining, she has helped to get a Native American month started at the school.

She said that she hopes the group will reach out to parents in the Gila River Indian Community, where she works.

Blackhorse said that the group has already helped bridge the gap between educators and Native American parents in the three districts.

For more information on the Southeast Valley Native American PTSA, visit or e-mail Blackhorse at la_blackhorse@yahoo .com.